I stared up at the moon for a little while and wondered if maybe you were looking too, Mat Kerekes sings in album opener and title track “Ruby”. Despite the warm and bouncing bass and easy melody, the sweet song sparks tears when I realise it’s an open letter to someone that has passed away. Lump in my throat, I’m easily swept up in Mat’s sung thoughts about his own life in perspective of the loss. This is all emotionally amplified by the fact that the album itself seems to be a dedication to Ruby, who may be the featured woman in the album artwork; sailing into the golden light, path marked by a lantern in hand.
Though it released on 19th April, I’d been waiting for the right time to review Mat Kerekes’ album Ruby. The singles released before Ruby had been something so unique to me; combining a nostalgic feel with fresh and modern sound to make for pieces of music that were moving and joyful.
In a quiet moment, with the house to myself, I sat down with the vinyl version of Ruby, lyrics in hand. Looking at the production notes – stating that Ruby was recorded in Mat’s garage in Toledo, Ohio, and how Mat was responsible for writing, producing, and engineering, how family members and loved ones contributed their voices – I was getting the impression that creating Ruby was a labour of love.
Voice as centrepiece amongst piano and violin, “Diamonds” seems purpose built to spark emotion in me. The song channels the high theatrical harmonies, piano vibrancy, and brash guitar work you might expect to hear on a Queen album, not to mention a trumpet. These all-out instrumental moments and big choruses take me to a place of embracing that fabulousness. Coupled with the question “Don’t you notice diamonds in your eyes while you’re looking through your window?”, it all seems like a reminder to see the beauty that we’re surrounded by. The thudding beats at the end of the song act like a playful full stop.
“Young”‘s soaring “They just talk and stare” harmonies ties in a similar vibe to “Diamonds”, as the track takes the listener on a journey of nostalgic observations. And I’m tearing up again for the second time in three songs with “The moments I write down are forever”. The feelgood and easy song comes across as a snapshot of the passage of time, and the power of creativity to capture something. But it’s more than that. It’s the power of dreaming, the power of individuality, the power of remembering.
I was already emotionally fragile and then “Autumn Dress”‘s beautiful compassion and light falsetto melted me further. Tender beats and soft seeking combined to attempt to seep into another’s impenetrable state of mind. The track is another nod to the importance of memory, but also presence. There’s an element of feeling ‘this is too personal to analyse’ with these beautiful songs, which includes “They Appear At Night” and its heart-wrenching strings, piano, and thirst for connection in the world. These are songs that deserve quiet and attentive listens.
Flipping the record over, it’s “Hawthorne”‘s turn. There’s something about this song that’s moving with every listen, even well after the song was initially shared with fans as a single (of sorts). Compassion oozes in this sonic telling of a story, and it’s easy to get hung on every word as it flows from tenderness through to orchestral fullness.
I’m not sure what the ‘official’ intention behind the song is, but to me it’s a beautiful celebration of someone enjoying the fullness of life – or at least is a reminder of that fullness that they once lived. The choruses are a heartwarmingly satisfying battlecry to the parts of us that have become buried in trauma or the mundane mechanics of normalcy.
When “Welcome To Crystal Cres” begins, I’m already flush with emotion and celebration and moved to the extreme. In this state, I’m virtual putty for the waltzing song’s story to wash over me; one of uniqueness and music and the desperate people we live amongst. It’s a shift in time, like I’ve fallen into a long gone past and I’m some different kind of creature surrounded by medieval views. The sense of rebellion (or maybe the sense of fight to be who you are) is fittingly expressed by fierce guitar solo, tense percussion, and layers of vocals – both distant and close.
“You don’t live in the moment for long. You just pretend like you do.”
I don’t know who Sue is, but “Hey there Sue, can’t you give me something new?” is possibly one of the catchiest lines on Ruby. “Spider Silk” seems to capture a sense of apathy through its fluidly bouncing self. I found the track to be the most challenging to feel something in response to, which I guess works in terms of apathy or waiting for something new to happen. The most curiosity sparking part for me was the sweet and almost old-timey sound of “I still dream of you laying in your flower bed”, sung by Asha Zapf as the song comes to an end.
It’s nearly the end of Ruby and “One For The Wildflowers” is leading us there, cradling with gentleness and warm bass tones. With careful observations of the lives we create, the song keeps an eye on time but also an eye on being lost to it. It’s a song to get lost to too, with floaty guitar moments and sweet harmonies. Climbing into the chorus and beyond, the track is instrumentally moving, especially gaining fullness from guitars and drums.
With its falsetto harmonies “An Ode” ends Ruby, taking us back to Queen-esque sounds we heard earlier in the album. I take this thoughtful and questioning piece of music as expressing a loss of youth and the magic of that time, and seeing yourself growing older. The gang vocals of the track give it a mark of a ‘last track’, with Mat’s voice and a single note bleeding out to the end.
I think it’s official that no one else captures real world observations with the tint of romanticisation like Mat Kerekes does. The songs of Ruby feel like good friends in your ears, or like a kind-hearted note that someone secretly left in a jacket pocket to remind you of the good that exists. Ruby feels like a nudge to see the beauty in the world around us, and maybe a push to celebrate this by creating inspired by all of it – even creating the life you want for yourself.
But it’s not just a snapshot of life through rose-coloured glasses we’re shown via Ruby. The destructive, isolating, and constricting elements of life are part of the album’s story, and how seemingly easy it is to overlook the potential that stares oneself in the face as time ticks on. The challenges exist and the losses happen, but life continues. To me, Ruby sparks an enthusiasm to see life through individual, romanticised, and joyful lenses, and to keep firm hold on the key moments where someone was unashamedly themselves.
There’s two sayings that Ruby makes me think of; firstly “The creative adult is the child who has survived”. With the sense of wonder and creative imagination that has been shown in Ruby, this saying sums up Mat Kerekes perfectly. And secondly, “To love a person is to see all of their magic and to remind them of it when they have forgotten.” Cheesy or not, this is what Ruby captures for me.
Emotionally moving, pulling the listener into beautiful moments, while still leaving a mist of ambiguity at times for one's own intepretation. Full-blown musical celebrations or tender whispers - it's all here.
For the power that some songs on the album had to hook me in and feel 'at home' in, there were others that I didn't quite get, and as such didn't grab me as memorable songs. Aside from this, Ruby is tough to fault.